Death toll rises to seven from NY Legionnaires' disease

NEW YORK (AFP) - The death toll has climbed to seven from an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in New York with 64 other people being treated in hospital, health officials said Tuesday.

In total, 81 people have contracted the form of pneumonia since the outbreak began in mid-July.

The disease is spread by bacteria discovered in the cooling towers of several buildings in the south Bronx neighborhood.

On Monday, officials said four people had died.

Those who have died were older patients and had pre-existing medical conditions. Legionnaires' disease is not contagious and can be treated with antibiotics.

City hall announced that it would again test five cooling towers, which were disinfected after they were found to harbor the Legionella bacteria.

Authorities stressed once again that New York's drinking water supply, fountains, shower heads and pools are safe and unaffected.

Leaflets were distributed over the weekend to inform residents in the Bronx, where the outbreak has been concentrated, and invite them to a public meeting late Monday on the outbreak.

The disease, a serious pulmonary infection, is spread by bacteria that thrive in warm water, such as that found in hot water pipes, air-conditioning systems and industrial ponds.

Infections result from inhaling airborne droplets of contaminated water. The incubation period lasts between two and 10 days.

Symptoms include fever, coughing and phlegm containing traces of blood.

The disease takes its name from its first outbreak, in 1976, at a Philadelphia hotel where a meeting of the American Legion society was being held.